Interaction Patterns of Men Who Have Sex With Men on a Geosocial Networking Mobile App in Seven United States Metropolitan Areas: Observational Study

J Med Internet Res. 2019 Sep 12;21(9):e13766. doi: 10.2196/13766.


Background: The structure of the sexual networks and partnership characteristics of young black men who have sex with men (MSM) may be contributing to their high risk of contracting HIV in the United States. Assortative mixing, which refers to the tendency of individuals to have partners from one's own group, has been proposed as a potential explanation for disparities.

Objective: The objective of this study was to identify the age- and race-related search patterns of users of a diverse geosocial networking mobile app in seven metropolitan areas in the United States to understand the disparities in sexually transmitted infection and HIV risk in MSM communities.

Methods: Data were collected on user behavior between November 2015 and May 2016. Data pertaining to behavior on the app were collected for men who had searched for partners with at least one search parameter narrowed from defaults or used the app to send at least one private chat message and used the app at least once during the study period. Newman assortativity coefficient (R) was calculated from the study data to understand assortativity patterns of men by race. Pearson correlation coefficient was used to assess assortativity patterns by age. Heat maps were used to visualize the relationship between searcher's and candidate's characteristics by age band, race, or age band and race.

Results: From November 2015 through May 2016, there were 2,989,737 searches in all seven metropolitan areas among 122,417 searchers. Assortativity by age was important for looking at the profiles of candidates with correlation coefficients ranging from 0.284 (Birmingham) to 0.523 (San Francisco). Men tended to look at the profiles of candidates that matched their race in a highly assortative manner with R ranging from 0.310 (Birmingham) to 0.566 (Los Angeles). For the initiation of chats, race appeared to be slightly assortative for some groups with R ranging from 0.023 (Birmingham) to 0.305 (Los Angeles). Asian searchers were most assortative in initiating chats with Asian candidates in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. In Birmingham and Tampa, searchers from all races tended to initiate chats with black candidates.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that the age preferences of MSM are relatively consistent across cities, that is, younger MSM are more likely to be chatted with and have their profiles viewed compared with older MSM, but the patterns of racial mixing are more variable. Although some generalizations can be made regarding Web-based behaviors across all cities, city-specific usage patterns and trends should be analyzed to create targeted and localized interventions that may make the most difference in the lives of MSM in these areas.

Keywords: men who have sex with men; population dynamics; race factors; sexual behavior.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American
  • Cities
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Health Promotion
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission
  • Social Networking*
  • United States
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult